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I Was Skeptical At First, But It Turns Out Those 20 Years Of Solitary Confinement Were Exactly What I Needed

When I first found out I was being transferred to solitary confinement, I was pretty nervous. I’d heard stories about how hard “the box” is for guys to handle, and I questioned whether being left completely alone in there for an extended period might start to mess with my head and perhaps even prove counterproductive to my rehabilitation. But as it turns out, I had nothing to worry about. The thing is, 20 years in an isolation cell at Pelican Bay State Prison’s Secure Housing Unit wound up being exactly what I needed.

Let me tell you, spending more than 7,000 days in a confined space and having no direct contact with the outside world has given me a lot of time to think things over, and I’m feeling a lot better now. A whole lot better!

I must have really worked through some issues during those first 20 or 30 suicide attempts, you know? Because these days I feel like a whole new man.

During my first few weeks alone in this windowless 8-by-10-foot cell, where there’s nothing to do all day but stare at the bare concrete, I wasn’t sure I would make it. I wondered how I could possibly endure such a long stretch of time with no social interaction, not to mention the lack of stimulation of any kind beyond my own increasingly paranoid thoughts. I was pretty skeptical that anything positive would come of it.

Well, it just goes to show how wrong you can be, because spending almost half my life in enforced solitude is the best thing that’s ever happened to me!

Sure, it took some getting used to, and I have to admit the first four or five years of being restricted to a tiny, gray room devoid of any natural light were a bit rocky. Once I got over that hump, though, that’s when the rehabilitation really started to kick in. I soon learned that the court-mandated 60 minutes a day I get to spend pacing around a small, walled-in courtyard for exercise have been more than enough excitement to keep me happy, healthy, and levelheaded.

I must have really worked through some issues during those first 20 or 30 suicide attempts, you know? Because these days I feel like a whole new man.

And just think, all I needed to turn things around was to have my interactions with other human beings limited to the three times a day someone passes me a meal through the slot in my cell door, plus whenever I manage to score a day or two in the prison infirmary by intentionally strangling myself.

Of course, I don’t want to sugarcoat things. There was definitely a period, either two weeks or 10 years ago—it’s hard to tell—when I was having some serious doubts about whether prolonged isolation was really a good idea for someone with as many preexisting psychological issues as me. But I see now the whole experience has just been a way for me to grow as a person. And besides, I think the hallucinations I was suffering from then—the terrifying disembodied voices I heard every time I closed my eyes; regularly seeing my father standing silently over me while I lay in bed—were just the result of a routine infection that prison staff had ignored until it became septic.

This has been such a breakthrough for me. I mean, sure, I’m going to have PTSD for the rest of my life, I realize that, but I feel my time in the hole has really given me a chance to clear my head.

If they moved me back to gen pop tomorrow, I have to admit there’s a little part of me that would miss this place. This is my home, from the wall that I used to slam my head against as a way to provide myself with some means of physical stimulation, to the corner where I spent most of 2008 experiencing a complete psychotic break. This place is special, and I appreciate it, even if I’ve been deprived of human contact for so long that I’m no longer able to convey the social cues and facial expressions necessary to show it.

Luckily, though, I’ve still got some time to work on my goodbyes. It definitely doesn’t look like I’m getting out of here anytime soon.

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